10 Denver Day Hikes

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ― John Muir

denver day hike

Somehow we are already in the second week of July (whaaaat? How did this happen?) I travel a lot in the summer, but luckily, living in Denver, even when I'm at home an adventure is only a short drive away. I get asked a lot to recommend day trips and hikes around Denver - so, while I could never make a list of all my favorites, I put together 10 of the (mostly) easy, close hikes around the Denver area that would be perfect for almost anyone. 

Below is a short overview of each hike, necessary info/links, what to do after, and a "water bottle score" - how difficult the hiking is on a scale of 0 (not really even a hike) to 5 (climbing a 14er) for a visitor. I've started with the hikes closest to Denver and ended with those the farthest. You need a car for all of these except in Boulder where you can take the bus from Denver. 

General tips for all of these hikes: try to go on a weekday! Colorado people stereotypes are true - they love to hike - and the weekends are insane pretty much everywhere. If you must go on a weekend, at least go early! This will also help with sunburn, fatigue etc that you may not expect if you aren't used to the elevation. 

If you go on any of these hikes, or have other questions, let me know! Enjoy :)

Lair O' The Bear - Morrison, CO - 22 miles from Denver

Headed to Red Rocks for a show or a hike? Keep going a few miles west on Highway 74 to Lair O' The Bear park. This is a relatively small, family friendly hiking spot right off the road. There are trails, a river, and picnic tables a-plenty. Trails are open for biking and the creek is popular for fishing. 

This is a great place for families, those who are not used to the elevation, or anyone who wants a quick getaway from Denver. 

Water bottle Score: 1/5

After: go back to Morrison, visit the quaint downtown shops, and eat at Twin Forks or the Morrison Inn. 

Site and trail map here.

Mt. Falcon - Indian Hills, CO - 25 miles from Denver

Once you've enjoyed your afternoon in Morrison, don't be confused by the signs for Mt. Falcon Park there. There are two ways to enter this park, and that is not the one you want. Just trust me here. Head to the West trailhead in Indian Hills (From U.S. Highway 285, take the Indian Hills turn-off, follow Parmalee Gulch Road for 5 miles to Picutis Road, then straight ahead to Mount Falcon Road). 

This park is one of my favorites for painting, reading, taking visitors, and even hiking (ha). It has trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are tons of picnic areas, remains of an old castle, a lookout tower with amazing panoramic views, and a picnic shelter that used to be the summer home of John Brisben Walker

Water bottle score: 2/5

After: Head down to Mac Nation for lunch and then a stroll through the Mirada Gallery (both on Parmalee Gulch Road - can't miss them)

Site and trail maps here.

Chautauqua Park - Boulder, CO - 28 miles from Denver

There are tons of hiking trails in Boulder, but this is a great place to start. The Boulder Chautauqua is the only remaining Chautauqua in operation west of the Mississippi - regularly hosting performances, lectures, and events. Check out the ranger station when you arrive then start hiking! 

My favorite trail is accessed from behind the dining hall - I start on the Mesa trail, climb up McClintock, up a secret trail (can't reveal everything!) then head back down towards Bluebell Mesa, sometimes heading over to Baird, Ski Jump, or Amphitheater Trail before heading back down the Chautauqua trail. (map)

You can't go wrong here. All the trails are well marked (except to my secret spot :)), generally well trafficked, and generally loop into another trail. Just start walking and you'll find great things. 

If possible, like most of the trails on this list, go early on a weekday. - it gets super crowded. If you can't get here on a weekday, there are shuttles on weekends or paid parking (free on weekdays). 

Water bottle score: 2.5/5

After: eat lunch or happy hour at the Chautauqua Dining Hall (try the Big Country Salad and the cilantro jalapeno margarita) and/or make a quick stop at the general store (open in the summer months) for some ice cream (or picnic foods and a strawberry lemonade)

Site with much more info here.

Echo Lake - Evergreen, CO - 45 miles from Denver

If you want to get out of the foothills and into some higher, cooler, mountain air - head west on I-70 to Echo Lake. It's been my favorite spot since I moved here (and I wrote a whole post about it here) to get away. 

To get there, take the Mt. Evans exit off of I-70, turn left and follow the road about 13 miles to the lodge - stop at the two lots on the way up to see a waterfall and a great view of Mt. Evans. Once you get to the parking lot, the views are immediate. You can picnic, fish, or just walk the short trail around the lake, or catch the Chicago Lakes trail out farther into the Mt. Evans Wilderness. 

Water bottle score: 0/5 for the lake 3.5/5 for Chicago Lakes trail

After: Check out the Echo Lake Lodge for souvenirs, great food, and a great bar view. Then if you're risky, take the Mt. Evans road all the way up to the Summit (in the summer only) - it's the highest paved road in North America!

Site and trail map here

St. Mary's Glacier - Idaho Springs, CO - 45 miles from Denver 

After you come down the mountain from Echo Lake, go West on I-70 to the St. Mary's exit (a mile or two). Follow it up until you reach the parking lot (map) This is on private land so you MUST pay a $5 parking fee -- bring cash there is nowhere to get any. The trail is super short, about 1.5 miles round trip, but steep and rocky so if you aren't used to the high elevation it could take some time to get up. As you near the top there are several trails but they'll all get you to the lake. There you will find a beautiful view of the Rockies, a glacier, a lake, and plenty of room to relax or picnic (or just watch people snowboard down the glacier). 

This is a great short hike for visitors or families as long as you are in moderate shape. It's also a great way to beat the summer heat. 

Water bottle score: 2.5/5

After: head down to Idaho Springs and explore the downtown, soak in Indian Hot Springs, or visit the Argo mine. Drink at Westbound and Down, eat at Da Rivuh, and shop at The Soap Shop. 

Herman Gulch - near Idaho Springs, CO - 54 miles from Denver

I try to get to the Herman Gulch Trail a few times a season. It's a fairly easy 7ish mile out and back trail right off of I-70. Like literally right off - it has it's own exit! Exit 218 if you'd like to try it for yourself. It's unmarked, so you just turn left and voila, the parking lot and trail! So easy! The trail is a part of the Continental Divide Trail - a 3,100 mile trail that crosses from Mexico all the way to Canada. 

Interesting fact: only about 200 hikers attempt to thru hike the Continental Divide Trail each year - and it takes about six months to complete! The other two "Triple Crowns" of long-distance hiking: The Appalachian Trail (2,184ish miles) and The Pacific Crest Trail (2,654 miles) have thousands who attempt a thru hike each year, but much much less who actually complete it.

Back to my (much shorter) hike. The Herman Gulch trail starts out fairly steep through the trees until you come to a beautiful meadow with wildflowers when in season. The hike continues through the meadow and a few shady areas (wear sunscreen!) until the final ascent to the Herman Gulch Lake. 

This hike is good for everyone! The elevation gain can be tricky if you are from out of town or not active, but with plenty of water and breaks you should be fine. The actual trail is not difficult or technical.

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: go back East to Silver Plume and visit Bread bar (on weekends) or on to Georgetown to walk the quaint downtown, or drive up Guanella Pass. 

Site and trail map here

Brainard Lake Recreation Area - Ward, CO - 57 miles from Denver

Way up in the mountains of Ward, Colorado, you will find one of the most beautiful places - not just around Denver - but around anywhere. Brainard Lake is part of the Forest Service (so you can use your America The Beautiful pass to get in without the $10 fee), and is near the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. There are lakes, camping, picnic areas, you name it. All of the recreation area is above 10,000 feet, so you can only access from around late June to October. 

Brainard Lake and Long Lake are easy to get to, while my other favorite hike - Mitchell Lake to Blue Lake is a bit longer. The hikes are so beautiful, with many alpine lakes on the way. Find more information about the trails here. 

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: head to Nederland and visit the Carousel of Happiness, then over to Salto Coffee Works

Mt. Bierstadt - near Georgetown, CO - 60 miles from Denver 

I've climbed two 14ers (all on my own woo!), since moving to Colorado. Mt. Bierstadt was the first - chosen because it is generally seen as an "easy" 14er. Now, for those of you who probably don't live in Colorado, a 14er is a mountain that is over 14,000 feet in elevation. There are 96 in the United States, with a whopping 53 in Colorado. So even an "easy 14er" is not so easy. 

That said, if you are acclimated to the altitude, and in decent shape, this is a great trail to start bagging peaks. It is only about 7 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet. The top is a bit of a rock scramble but totally doable even for the scaredy cats like me. 

14er tips: Start early! Thunderstorms kick up over the mountains almost every afternoon in the summer, and they can be (and are) deadly when you are above the tree line. Also, these trails are super busy so starting early gives you a head start (and parking space) over the masses. Wear layers - it's cold, hot, windy -- be prepared for it all. Bring lots of water! You will need it. Pay attention to the weather, and don't be afraid to take lots of breaks. Remember trail etiquette and if you start to feel weird - go back down! Altitude sickness is real and it is torture (and happens to even the fittest people). 

To get there, follow Guanella Pass from downtown Georgetown about 12 miles to the top. You will see the parking lots and millions of Subarus. 

Water bottle score: 4.8/5

After: head back down to Georgetown and ride the historic Loop Railroad. Visit the Rock Shop, and eat at The Alpine.

More information here

Emerald Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park - 64 miles from Denver

Many of the trails on this list are fairly popular, but this might be the most popular of them all. With good reason. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are an easy day trip from Denver, and if you only have time for a hike or two, this one packs a punch. 

Enter RMNP, then either head up to the Bear Lake lot (if it's early on a weekday) or park in the park and ride and catch a shuttle to Bear Lake (recommend this). Bear Lake is one of the most popular lakes in the park, with an easy and accessible trail around it. If you decide to go on, you will walk about 3.5 miles and see four amazing alpine lakes. 

Again, this trail is very popular, but I still recommend it if you're in the park. If you want more of a workout, head down towards Glacier Gorge when you reach Bear Lake on the way down and catch the shuttle from there. 

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: explore the park! Then head in to Estes Park to walk the town, visit The Stanley Hotel and drink at Rock Cut Brewing. 

More info here

Manitou Incline - Manitou Springs, CO - 70 miles from Denver

If you're an extremist, or find yourself near Colorado Springs, you might want to hike the Manitou Incline. I wrote more about my experience here, but basically, it's this super steep former cable car route turned stairway. It gains over 2,000 feet in elevation in just under a mile and it's intense to say the least! Some parts have a grade of up to 68% (look at the picture above for some perspective). 

If you're still interested, remember that because this is so steep, once you start - you have to continue. There is a bail out, but it isn't until about 2/3 up the trail. To get down you follow the Barr Trail back to where you began. 

Water Bottle Score: 4.75/5

After: Explore Manitou Springs and stop by the The Mate Factor, then head over to Garden of the Gods for some much easier hikes, followed by dinner in Old Colorado City

Site and more info here. Download the app here

 

Now get out there! And let me know if you want more recommendations, or other information :) 

grand teton national park

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” Sylvia Path

teton 1

I'm not one for resolutions - but I love goal setting. One of my goals this year is to read 52 books. Not necessarily sticking to one a week but 52 in total. So far I am ahead of my goal (woo!) and reading a lot of books that I wouldn't have normally chosen. One of those books is Astoria by Peter Stark. It was book number 26 and chronicles John Jacob Astor's Astorian's trek to the West Coast to establish a fur trading post. 

astoria

What does this have to do with the Grand Tetons I'm sure you are asking yourself. Well, the Overland party of Astorians decided to take a route through North America that was south of Lewis and Clark's between 1810 and 1812 and in the process became some of the first non-native people to cross the Teton range. 

teton reflection

"There the landmark stood, clearly visible even at sixty miles' distance - three jagged, snowcapped peaks rising in a cluster like shark's teeth, nearly a mile above the surrounding landscape... '[the three mountains] were hailed by the travelers,' wrote Washington Irving, in his account of Astor's enterprise. 'with that joy with which a beacon on a seashore is hailed by the mariners after a long and dangerous voyage..." (Stark 131) 

After reading I immediately booked my first night in Driggs, Idaho, in the Teton Valley - over the Teton pass that the Overland party traveled over 200 years ago. What can I say, books inspire me. And I'm so glad that they do - because I wasn't prepared for the beauty I was about to find. 

I stayed in Driggs the first night in part because the Jackson Hole valley is super duper expensive (especially in the summer) but also because I wanted to see the range from a different view. I stayed at a beautiful log home in the valley (on a yak farm!) and enjoyed an evening watching the sunset and a beautiful morning watching the sun rise over the peaks. 

After watching the yaks for longer than I care to admit, I started on the (breathtaking) road to the park. Grand Teton is north of Jackson, Wyoming and 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park - connected by the Rockefeller Parkway. It was established in 1929 and encompasses 310,000 acres of land. It is in the top ten visited National Parks with over 2.5 million visitors per year.

teton sign

Grand Teton is the tallest mountain in the Teton range at 13,775 feet above sea level but what makes the landscape so dramatic is that it towers over 7,000 feet above the valley. 

teton drive

There are over 200 miles of trails, 1,000 campsites, lodges, visitors centers, lakes famous for trout fishing and two that allow motorized boating - Jackson and Jenny Lake (below).

jenny lake

I spent quite a bit of time in the Colter Bay area of Jackson Lake, named after the first white man to see the Tetons and the original mountain man - John Colter. There is a marina with rentals, swimming beach, picnic areas, general store, restaurants, lodging, a gift shop, and an alright view :) 

Fun fact about the parks name: "The buoyant French-Canadian voyageurs called them as they saw them, the Trois Tetons - 'the three breasts.' It's the voyagers' name that has stuck for these grand mountains that tower above today's Jackson Hole, Wyoming." (Stark 131) 

jackson lake

Now that I hope these pictures and stories of fur traders have convinced you to visit - here's how to do it:

Fly: The Jackson Hole Airport is the only airport within a National Park! 

Drive: I drove from Denver through Jackson to Driggs via 191 which was so beautiful but a more direct route is via US - 287. 

Stay: There are lodges and campsites in the park, hotels in Jackson just outside, or a little farther in the Teton Valley - over the Teton pass to Driggs (where my airbnb was located) and Victor. 

Pay: I (of course) used my $80 America the Beautiful Pass to get in fee free but if you don't have one, the fee for Grand Teton is $30 for a vehicle 7-day pass ($50 for a Grand Teton and Yellowstone pass) 

Things to do: There are so so many things to do that I can't possibly blog about here but check out the official website, my post on trip planning, and this map for more specifics!

Now plan your trip! (and bring an extra memory card for your camera - you're going to need it) :)

tetons relaxing

<3

manitou incline

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

As I've gotten older, it's become more important to me to set and achieve goals. One of my goals the past year has been to climb the Manitou Incline.  I'm proud to say that yesterday I made it to the top on my first attempt! 

What is the Manitou Incline?

The Manitou Incline a hiking trail in Manitou Springs Colorado that famously gains 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile! What was once a cable car to carry materials to build pipelines on Pikes Peak has been used for years (but has only been legal since 2013) by athletes and locals who wanted a challenging exercise. 

The base of the trail is already 6,600 feet above sea level in Ruxton Canyon in Manitou Springs. It is right at the base of Pikes Peak and becomes an offshoot of the Barr Trail that summits Pikes Peak (14,114 ft). The trail is categorized as extreme and the rules are clear about that. 

The incline is open from dawn to dusk. I went on a Sunday at around 9am with two friends. We parked in a city lot and caught the free shuttle to the incline that runs from May 18-September 24. There have been many complaints and legal action taken as a result of the congested parking and noise at the Incline trail-head itself (parking for Barr Trail and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is at the base of the incline as well) so the shuttle is a great service. 

incline

We started out slowly and decided to stop every 10% completed. We used the Manitou Incline app to track our progress. It told us our time and the percent completed which was really motivational for me. We ended up stopping more than every 10% mostly between 50-80% where the grades can be as high as 68%! The average grade is 41% and the climb is higher than the Empire State Building! 

My legs started to hurt about 30% of the way up (and never stopped hurting haha). It's hard to breathe due to the incline itself but also due to the high altitude - bring lots of water! There's a bailout to the Barr Trail at about 2/3 of the way up but otherwise it's not recommended/safe to go back down the incline so you have to commit!

There is a false summit with about 300 steps to go - but thankfully a fellow climber warned us so I wasn't too upset. Everyone on the incline was really friendly and helpful.

We took a lot of pictures during breaks to keep up morale. :)

Once you reach the top there is a flat area to sit and relax before going back down the Barr Trail. Another friendly climber told us that it's easier to trail run down and honestly, after climbing up 2,000 feet, that sounded like the worst suggestion ever. But we tried it and - surprisingly - it was super fun. I think I'm a converted trail runner now. 

After the hike we rewarded ourselves with some lunch - there are so many eclectic spots in downtown Manitou Springs

Recommendation:

If you are in the area and in decent shape I'd recommend this hike! We passed athletes, tourists, old, young, families etc.. The feeling of accomplishment is worth the agony challenges of climbing. Just be careful if you aren't acclimated to the altitude, bring plenty of water, start slow, and don't be afraid to take breaks.

To get to the Manitou Incline: from I-25 in Colorado Springs take exit 141 (US 24) West to Manitou Avenue. Turn right, go three miles to Ruxton Avenue and left 3/4 of a mile. You can park at the Barr Trail trailhead NOT the Pikes Peak Cog Railway lot. Or you can park in town and catch the Incline Shuttle. 

So what are you waiting for? Challenge yourself -you'll be glad you did.